Performance History Twelfth Night

first known performance was February 2cnd 1602
” At our feast we had a play called “Twelve Night, or What You Will”, much like “The Comedy of Errors” or “Menaechmi” in Plautus, but most like and near to that in Italian called “Inganni”. A good practice in it to make the steward believe his lady-widow was in love with him, by counterfeiting a letter as from his lady, in general terms telling him what she liked best in him and prescribing his gesture in smiling, his apparel, etc. and then, when he came to practice, making him believe they took him for mad” John Manningham 1602
There is some evidence that the text was amended by Shakespeare himself after his first performance. Viola may have had a song in an early version, that was cut and replaced with her story about an imaginary sister, that has bigger emotional impact. Also, Orsino’s title, originally Count before becoming Duke, appears to have been amended after a first performance, and Fabian’s sudden substitution for Feste appears to have been done rather crudely, sometime after 1602, so that Feste could act more like an ironic commentator than merely a funny accomplice. 1602 onwards
by the time Charles I was in charge, the play was referred to as “Malvolio”, showing that this was the character that the general audience found the most interesting 1623
T Samuel Pepys thought it “a silly play”, but saw it three times anyway within three years. The play was extremely unpopular after the restoration. 1661
The play was extremely unpopular after the… restoration of the monarchy
New adaptions of Twelfth Night, such as Love Betray’d, or, The Agreeable Disappointment, were debuted at Lincoln’s Inn Fields 1703
After the popularity of adaptions increased in the 17th century and early 18th century, the original Shakespearean text of Twelfth Night was revived in a production at Drury Lane. 1741
The play is first performed in New York, and was the first known production where the roles of Sebastian and viola were played by the same person. 1804
In an operatic version by Frederic Reynolds was staged, using Shakespeare’s other sonnets, poems, and songs from other plays such as The Tempest 1820
Henry Irving’s version of Malvolio was coldly received on both sides of the atlantic. When it opened , members of the audience commented how Malvolio’s “tragic nuances” were extremely different from the earlier broadly humorous interpretations. 1884
9 performances in this time opened with Viola’s entrance rather than the Duke’s speech. This means we first see the sea-captain’s view of Olivia, in which she is mourning rather than Orsino’s version, in which she is objectified. If the duke follows her on stage, viola seems more firmly in charge of her fate. 1808-1900
The earliest film version of Twelfth Night was a black-and-white silent piece directed by Charles Kent in 1910
Harley Granville Barker had different ideas on gender and sexuality in Twelfth Night. He believed that when Viola was played by a man, her femininity all but disappeared, making her relations with Orsino more dignified and her relations with Olivia more passionate. He hated that Viola came to be played by a woman, because it means relations between Orsino and Viola are heterosexual, but her relations with Olivia have homoerotic potential. The male homoerotic potential was believed to be dignified, the female homoerotic potential was believed to be a silly affair 1912
Directors started to darken the play, and started to make the productions dominated by a desperately sad and melancholic Feste 1930-40
The longest running Broadway production by far was Margaret Webster’s. It ran for 129 performances, more than twice as long as any other Broadway production. 1940
gave way to the new Malvolio, his real pain, and the sense of grievous wrong remerging, and led to increasingly dark and disturbing productions. second half of the 1950s
Possibly the most sexually charged performance of Twelfth Night was directed by Peter Gill. He staged it as “an exploration of rampant bisexuality”. Orsino hugs Cesario to his chest passionately, Antonio is plainly Sebastian’s lover, and viola is anguished by Olivia’s obvious passion for her. The backdrop for the production was a huge image of Narcissus staring at his own reflection, making it not only explicitly sexual, but also obsessive and self-reflective. 1974
A memorable production in America was set in the context of an archetypal circus world, emphasising its convivial, carnival tone. 1984
Anthony Sher was possibly the most controversial Malvolio. In the Royal Shakespeare company production, which was set in a Greek village, showed desire’s transformation into sadism. Orsino looked more like a bad stepfather to Cesario than a lover, Toby and Maria became sexually excited to watch Feste torture Malvolio in the dark room. 1987
Sher plays Malvolio as someone who has been pushed over the edge but cannot climb back. Unlike most Malvolios, he stays incredibly mad. In the dark room scene, he is tied to a stake like a bear. Stanley Wells disliked Sher’s interpretation, saying that “if Malvolio has a tragedy, it is that he is irremediably sane.” 1987
Trevor Nunn’s film version most significantly marks the transformation of Feste from humorous observer to Shakespeare’s dramatic persona. Ben Kingsley’s Feste overlooks Viola coming to shore, and gives viola her fallen necklace later in the narrative, proving he could see through her disguise all along. Nunn added a controversial opening sequence, and an idealised setting in rural and idyllic Victorian countryside, while giving the piece pre-Raphaelite undertones in terms of costume and hair. 1996
A Spanish version darkened the play’s mood and register even further. Even Sir Toby came across as “a nasty, vicious oaf, whose slicked-back hair and black braces seemed to invite comparisons with the Falangist bully boys of Spain’s fascist past” 1996
In an interesting artistic choice, the male actor who played Maria also played Sebastian, creating a gendered ambivalence in both brother and sister 2001
The company of Shakespeare’s Globe, London, has produced many notable, highly popular all-male performances, and a highlight of their season was Twelfth Night, with the Globe’s artistic director Mark Rylance playing the part of Olivia.. 2002
The production starring Rylance was revived and transferred to sell-out runs in the West End and Broadway. Stephen Fry played Malvolio. It ran in repertory with Richard III. 2012
-Rylance’s Olivia runs around like a school girl, initially glides, but one of the first Olivias to abandon the dignity many interpretations have and speaks in stammers, unrefined, exposes her perfervid confusion -stripped back to original shakespearean setting, no scene change -Actor playing viola achives the oxymoron of masculine boyishness with a feminine allurement-Maid maria is one of the highlights, played by a man but no hints of drag at all, just becomes a woman- in the earliest productions Malvolio threatened to tip the balance of the play by taking over as the protagonist, but Stephen Fry makes no attempt to usurp centre-stage- Fry’s Malvolio never decends into slapstick or farce, and never loses his air of dignity 2012-13
Schools production at the globe. Any homoeroticism is wiped out, and the play is acted very heterosexually, possibly because of the school-aged audience. Feste was played by a woman- but not very well, abandoned the wisdom of Feste and became slapstick. Orsino was a typical American musician, in a white suit, playing piano, narcissistic. Malvolio wore lederhosen instead of yellow stockings. Sir Andrew and Sir Toby were hysterical, Olivia ran around in really high heels, straddling Cesario at one point 2016
Malvolio becomes feminine in “Malvolia”, and Feste is also once again played by a woman. Hysterically funny, possibly decreasing the main plot for the sub plot 2017 National Theatre
a d├ębut on 2 February would have rendered the play’s title irrelevant, or at best ironic (it should be something like ‘Candlemas’). Since there is no record of a Temple performance on Twelfth Night itself, it must have been staged elsewhere, probably in another private hall, and may have been commissioned for the festive occasion. 6th January 1602
A version mixing the characters of Sir Andrew and Malvolio, making a single character who is duped by Sir Toby 1703
the two scenes between Antonio and Sebastian were continually cut or moved around, a sign of the embarrassment they caused producers, who systematically omitted Antonio’s more ardent effusions in 2.1 and eliminated the parallels between Antonio’s declaration of love and those of Viola and Olivia Throughout the 19th Century
The play has been renowned for adaptation into musicals, namely one jazz musical, rock musical is set in the city of Manhattan Island, Illyria, where Orson is a theatrical agent and Olivia the operator of a discotheque, while Viola and Sebastian, both rock singers, have lost all their music in a shipwreck 1968
In the same year a seventeen-year-old American student directed a highly ingenious staging at the Chicago Drama Festival It featured a twelve-foot-high ‘storybook’ set, in vivid expressionistic colours, representing a volume whose pages turned with each new scene, symbolizing how dramatic life sprang from the text 1932
Hands’ RSC production, Feste was on the stage the whole time, never leaving once, but in some sort of disguise or hidden. this meant he knew everything that happened, and made any interactions much more ironic 1979
the production in which Sebastian and Antonio speak their first scene getting dressed next to an unmade double bed 2001
Harley Granville Barker’s performance was considered legendary and memorable. ‘much the most beautiful thing I have ever seen done on the stage’. extraordinary non-realist set gave Orsino a palace made up of ‘twisted barley-sugar pillars in pink’. Orsino’s ‘decadent’ pink, set off against Olivia’s severe black. 1912
Hentschel brought in a team of women designers, known appropriately as ‘Motley’, to create inconsistent costumes: a Dickensian Malvolio, a Regency Orsino, an Edwardian Sir Toby, and so on. 1939
One can divide many of the stagings into two main directorial camps: ‘Twelfth Night’ productions and ‘Illyrian’ productions. The former have a primarily temporal and specifically seasonal emphasis, the latter a more spatial – and especially ‘exotic’ – take on the play. last 50 years
Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company touring production was, by contrast, staged at the winter solstice, in keeping with its primarily subdued and at times funereal atmosphere: ‘He has taken the title literally and his Edwardian Illyria is locked in the grip of an icy winter,’ 1987
while an unmistakably gay Antonio struck up a liaison with Feste at the end of the dramatic proceedings. 1986

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